Sunday 28th October 2012 – Jesus is calling us

The Word This Week:

Thoughts on the Word:

Firstly I apologise that this is late! Due to the technical difficulties we have encountered I post for you a sermon by a Lutheran pastor and scholar for this past Sunday.  The technical difficulties should be all sorted to enable me to annoy you with my own ramblings again this coming week.

Sermon on Mark 10:46-52 (RCL), by David ZersenMOVING ON FROM YOUR JERICHO

The Christian life is a journey to an exciting new frontier. As we travel, we follow a leader and we leave old worlds behind. The texts that we consider in our Sunday sermons are often travel narratives, giving clear indications about the road less traveled. As Jesus leads his disciples on, we too respond to his summons. Today we are leaving Jericho with him. We need to pay attention to the stops along the way. Little by little we will discover that an old world is collapsing behind us and a new one, filled with joy and possibility, is summoning us. Let’s join in the journey.

“Jericho, Jericho, Jericho”

Many of us are used to jiving rhythmically to the words “Jé..ri..cho” in the Negro Spiritual, “Joshua fit de battle of Jericho.” The story of the battle when the walls of Jericho fall as told in the Book of Joshua is meant to demonstrate the power of God to destroy human barriers. Although the New Testament has references to Jericho in the story of the Good Samaritan as well as that of Zacchaeus, it is the Old Testament drama that is called to mind when the city name is mentioned, and it is that drama that forms the basis for the story in today’s Gospel lesson.

An outcast with a name

Most cultures have outcasts, people who live on the margins of a society and seem to belong to no one. We know of the Dalits of India who are born into their caste and cannot leave it. Outcasts sometimes had diseases that were assumed to be infectious, requiring such people to live outside the city. In Jesus’ day, outcasts were those who didn’t measure up to the expectations of purity laws set by the religiously righteous. Extremes among the outcasts are well known to us from the Essene writings. They make it clear that people with imperfections held by the blind, deaf, mute, lame, disabled, and ill were not allowed in the community of the righteous. Normally, these people were excluded from families and society in general. They lived outside the city, begged for donations and generally had no names. The man in our story is unusual. We even know his father’s name, Timaeus. Bar-timaeus, the son of Timaeus was blind. Jesus and his disciples are heading out of town and Bartimaeus is sitting at the roadside. One wonders, as we try to imagine this situation, how often we encounter unfortunates whose names we know. Who are the Bartimaeuses in your world? Where to you typically see them?

Blind who need to see

This is an interesting story because along with another story about a blind man in Mark 8 it frames a section in which Jesus is teaching his disciples, but they don’t seem to get the point. They don’t seem to see what he is showing them. They don’t see what the Transfiguration is about; they don’t see why they couldn’t drive out evil spirits as Jesus did; they don’t see what he means about his betrayal and they’re afraid to ask about it; they don’t see why children should be brought to Jesus; they don’t see why a rich man can’t enter the Kingdom; James and John don’t see why they can’t be first in the Kingdom. There are all too many things that his disciples don’t see because they are spiritually blind. It seems to make good sense to the author of Mark to put the two stories of the healing of the blind men as bookmarks around the section on spiritual blindness. We should be willing to ask ourselves as well what those things are that seeing, we do not see. When do we fail to see what is truly important in our relationships and in our priorities? When do we fail to see someone when it is perfectly obvious that he or she has been there all along?

Seeking to be first along the way

It’s interesting that crowds were following Jesus, listening, but not hearing; watching, but not seeing, speaking but saying nothing. They pressed all around him as he left the city, leaving Bartimaeus in the weeds in a ditch by the side of the road. But he shouts, “Jesus, have mercy on me.” Those who want to, at first tell him to shut up. After all, they want to be first in line, ahead of this beggar. At dinner with our grandchildren this week, I asked, “Who would like the first dish of ice cream?” “I would,” shouted the four-year-old, because she is just a child. She hasn’t yet learned how to let others go ahead. Yet, those on the roadside with Jesus were not children. They were pushy, self-centered adults who made their way aggressively into the first spot.

Those of us who have discovered the joy in serving others understand what’s happening here. Once you know that it’s possible to be fulfilled by allowing others to be first in line know that those we seek to push to the front are not acting out of arrogance or self-righteousness. Bartimaeus was asking for mercy. Like all those heralded by Jesus for their humility, the publican, the prodigal and the widow at the mite box, Bartimaeus had nothing to present. When along with such we recognize that we have nothing to present either, then we hear and see that Jesus is calling us as well.

Jesus is calling us

Bartimaeus discovered that Jesus was summoning him. He was calling him to come through the crowd and share his need. I heard this week about a woman whose marriage and family life were collapsing and she didn’t know which way to turn. She felt that God had abandoned her. Not so. Jesus is calling her. He knows her by name, just as he knew Bartimaeus. In the presidential debates in the U.S., candidates love to say, “This week I met a man in New Jersey, Bill Simmons, who has been out of work for 12 months. I told him that I’m working on getting a job for him.” Audiences love to hear that candidates know people by name. Long before politicians called citizens by name, God had claimed us. In baptism, he called us by name and said “You are mine.” When we feel abandoned and alone, God knows our name. When we struggle to make ends meet for our family and try to reclaim a family from troubled dead-ends, we can know that our names are written in heaven. We belong to God for time and eternity. When is it most important for you to hear God calling your name? How would you like him to assure you that you are his own?

Throwing your cloak aside

When you really hear him calling, when the cross and the empty tomb shout that you are loved and that you belong to God, then you can do what Bartimaeus did. He threw his cloak aside and ran to Jesus. His cloak was his sole possession. It kept him warm. It was his blanket. It was his protection against the heat and cold. But when a new assurance, a greater protection approached, there was no longer a need for it. With what joy and confidence he ran when he knew that Jesus was calling! What is the cloak you would be willing to throw aside when you hear Jesus calling your name? What dependencies can you relinquish when you know that God has your best interests at heart, your future in the palm of his hand?

Letting a new world begin

As we leave Jericho with Jesus and his disciples, it’s powerful to reflect on what the author of Mark’s Gospel is telling us. Bartimaeus “shouts” as the entourage leaves the city. Do we remember when this last happened? When the shouting brought about the collapse of an old way of life at Jericho and a new beginning led to a land of promise? When the walls came tumbling down? And did not that old Joshua at Jericho pre-figure a new Yeshua, who would give sight to the blind and hope to the despondent? This was an important moment in salvation history, this stop at the ditch outside of Jericho. For Bartimaeus, his blindness ended, the walls of a restrictive and isolated world came to an end. More than that, however, he entered an emancipating and open-ended community led by the Son of David.

And you may as well. Jesus is calling you at this crossroads in life to move on from your Jericho— to throw your encumbering baggage aside and to let the walls of a world that restricts and confines you collapse behind you. He points you to the future he has secured for you by dying to dead-end living and rising to a life that finds itself fulfilled in service to others. Jesus is calling you by name. The road before you is open and he’s way up ahead.

The above sermon was sourced HERE

Sunday July 29th 2012 – Bread of life 1


Mosaic of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. Photo © Dick Osseman.

The Word This Week:

Thoughts on the Word:

John 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

The reading for this week takes us into the 6th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John.  The 6th chapter of John is an interesting read – and is better read as a whole chapter, however in following the lectionary we will do it in 5 parts over the coming weeks.

The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a miracle that serves two purposes.  First it demonstrates to us the importance of sharing what we have with those in need – and how our own small offering can be multiplied manifold by God.  It is something we often hear said – I am but one person what can I do.  Well here in this story we see just one small boy with a basket of loaves and fishes to offer.  He gives them over to Jesus, and through a miracle that can only be the work of God incarnate, this small and almost insignificant offering is multiplied and feeds a hungry crowd of 5000 people.   Likewise when we give of ourselves, our time and treasures to serve the kingdom of God, they are multiplied manifold.  Never doubt the importance giving your time can have in the lives of people, ten minutes of listening to someone is only ten minutes to you – but it can mean a lot more to that person. Giving what you can in the plate at church each week, may be small in the scheme of things, but it contributes to saving the eternal lives of countless people through the work of the church.  God can use whatever we can give, no offering is to small to be used by God who is capable of doing the greatest good with the least of what we give.

The second purpose this story serves is to tell us something very important about Jesus.  When we read this portion in conjunction with the rest of John 6 we see that the whole discourse is geared to tell us something about Jesus.  It begins with today’s reading – Jesus asks Phillip where they could buy bread to feed the crowd – Phillip responds as you would expect most people would to such a question – he simply refers to the extravagant cost of such a suggestion.  It would cost 6 months wages to feed this many people! His implication is of course that it simply can’t be done. 

Jesus though wasn’t really concerned with how they would feed the crowd – he knew that he could provide for their physical nourishment.  What he was hoping to get from Phillip was an answer something akin to ‘you are all they need Jesus!’.  As we will see over the coming weeks Jesus was wanting people to understand something – that he was and would be the source of all nourishment for humanity. He wanted people to understand that he would provide himself as the life giving bread, the bread that gives eternal life. 

As we continue our journey over the coming weeks, I ask that you consider deeply the 6th chapter of John as a whole, as well as in the separate parts we read each week.  There is a very special message in this chapter – Jesus is truly the bread of life, he is the source of our hope, our future and our eternity, and he offers himself to us for our spiritual nourishment.

God Bless You!

Sunday April 29 2012 – The Good Shepherd

The Word This Week:

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Thoughts on The Word:
John 10:11-18 (NRSV)
11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Today’s Gospel reading talks about Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who cares for his sheep. The reading contrasts this to a hired man who would run at the first sign of danger or trouble, after all he has no attachment to the sheep, he doesn’t care for them – it’s just a job and no job is worth dying for.

The overarching message and contrast is that the Shepherd doesn’t abandon his flock, he defends it, he protects it and he will lay down his own life in order to save even one sheep in that flock. This is at the heart of the Gospel message. Jesus as the good shepherd considers each of his sheep to be precious, He knows each sheep personally. He was there when it was conceived, and at the moment it was born. He knows its parents, and its genetic make-up. Each lamb is different with its own name and each recognises and responds to the voice of their shepherd.

We of course are the sheep that Jesus cares for. Jesus was there when we were conceived and when we were born, He was there through all our joys and also through all our sufferings. We are very fortunate sheep indeed, for we have not been left in the care of a hired man, who has no concern for us and will run when the wolves come. Jesus fights for his people.

In fact Jesus loves his people so much that he willingly gives his life in order to save them – our Gospel reading today makes that clear for us – Jesus gives his life willingly, no-one takes it from him. What a love is this! It is something that I as a flawed human struggle to comprehend! I believe that I would probably lay down my life for those who I love, and who love me – But would I die for someone who hates me? Is my love for my fellow man enough that I would willingly sacrifice myself for someone who rejected me, or refused to acknowledge my very existence? Jesus lay down his life for the whole world – for everyone – even those who despise him. He is willing to welcome anyone into his flock, it is an open gift for all, and all we need do is reach out and accept it!

So we know we can trust Jesus as our Shepherd to protect us and keep us safe, in this life and the next… Why then do we still suffer, why do we come under attack from the world and from the evil one. If Jesus protects us shouldn’t life be rosy now for the Christian? It is a good question and appears to contradict what Jesus has said in today’s reading when we see Christians facing persecution, suffering from physical, mental and spiritual attack. The thing is though that Jesus never promised us that life in the world as one of his followers would be easy – in fact he specifically warns us in the Gospel according to St Matthew from chapter 10:16-33 that we will suffer, that we will face persecution and betrayal – even from our siblings and children. He tells us that we will be sheep among wolves – so how does this marry up with Jesus being the Good Shepherd?

The key is that we can be fearless – our Shepherd has already won the fight with the alpha wolf – Satan. We are assured of our salvation if we maintain our faith in Jesus. He will protect us – while we may sustain some physical wounds during our journey among the wolves, and be hurt, betrayed and suffer much anguish – we can take comfort in knowing that it is a temporary state. Though we may even die – yet we will live!

In our reading Jesus also tells us he has other sheep – not of this fold, that he will bring also, and all his sheep will become one flock with one shepherd. This is a reference to the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles – to us! Now because Jesus is now sitting at the right hand of God, we know he didn’t mean that he would personally go and preach the Gospel to the Gentiles – he uses his Church to gather the flock. Our journey among the wolves also has other benefits and blessings – you see when we are open about our faith, and fearless in living it and sharing it we have an affect on those around us. With God’s grace working through our fearless love, in the face of persecution and pain, even wolves can lose there fangs and claws and grow a coat of wool – yes through the Grace of God even wolves can become sheep!

Yes we as those living among wolves – but under the protection of the Good Shepherd must live our faith without fear, with the assurance of the love and protection of our loving shepherd. We can live our lives reflecting on the great love of Jesus who willingly gave up his life for us, and for all who are willing to accept his gift.

As you begin your week, remember that if you have accepted that gift of love and entered the flock of Christ through putting your faith and hope in Christ alone, then you are blessed, you are under the protection and guidance of the Good Shepherd – listen for his calls, and follow where he leads and you will enjoy his love and protection for eternity.

If you haven’t accepted the gift of eternal life from Christ but are interested in finding out how – please contact me, and I will be happy to help you discover more about the gift of salvation offered to you through Jesus.

Sunday 17th March 2013 – Worthless rubbish…


Picture sourced from Here

The Word This Week:

Thoughts on the Word:

Philippians 3:4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Pressing towards the Goal Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Over the past nine months, the value of ‘things’ has become abundantly clear to me.  You see nine months ago I resigned from my full time job as an executive in the public service, and became a full time student.  It was a decision my wife and I made based on faith – faith that God was leading me into ministry in His church, and faith that He would provide us with all that we needed in order to follow that calling.    As much faith as I had in making that decision though, it was still scary.  You see I am a husband and a father of three children.  I have responsibilities to them, and I had a good career, which was providing well for us – a career which ensured a secure future for me and my family.  We were comfortable – very comfortable truth be told… too comfortable.

Since I resigned from my job, our family income has come predominantly from government student and family payments.  This has been a big challenge for our family to adapt to – but it has also been a blessing, because it has taken the blinkers from our eyes.  You see while challenging, we are able to live without fear of starvation. We can pay for the luxury of electricity – for air conditioning in summer and heating in winter.  Despite a very heavy cut to our family budget, we are content.  Of course it comes with its challenges, and it is frustrating at times, however things which seemed important to us previously seem less so now. What has become clear to us is that we are blessed.  It is becoming clear that so much of what we valued in our previous lives was indeed rubbish, it is worthless. 

St Paul, in his letter to the Phillipians, describes those things which he previously felt to be of value –  things he lost for the sake of the Gospel –  to be now worthless rubbish also.  However Paul goes further, he says that all things, everything, is loss and rubbish.  For Paul, all that is of any value is Christ, and that which comes from Christ.  While we can strive to be good and earn ourselves accolades and the honour and respect of colleagues, friends, family and even fellow believers, all of this is worthless – it is rubbish. We can strive to follow the Law, and earn righteousness that way – but it is worthless, for true righteousness comes through Christ, and faith in him.

For Paul, experiencing loss, and dishonour, experiencing persecution and suffering for the sake of the Kingdom is not something to be bemoaned. It is something to celebrate, for it is an experience of the suffering of Christ.  It is a participation in His suffering and death.  If Christ deems us worthy to participate in His sufferings, for the sake of the Kingdom, then we can be confident he will deem us worthy to participate in His resurrection!

Paul calls us to look forward to the Kingdom, and to our resurrection to eternal life.  Our focus should be entirely on participating in God’s Kingdom, and whatever we lose along the way, we should not look back mournfully, but forward with confidence and hope.

As we are drawing near the end of our Lenten season and we approach the cross of Christ,  I wonder how much worthless rubbish we still carry with us.  So many of us give something up for Lent – only to take it up again immediately afterwards, I wonder, how much of those things which we feel are valuable in our lives, things we feel we ‘need’ could we truly count as loss? How many things could we do without forever? Just as importantly what can we replace them with – St Paul replaced them with dedication to the Gospel.  He dedicated his life to the Kingdom.  Now many of us are not called to be as radical as Paul in giving up all that we have in order to become missionary preachers, however we are all called to be radicals in another way.  We are called to be in the world, but not of the world, we are called to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God.   So as we approach the cross of Christ, we must examine ourselves, let us look at what we value, and determine is it Christ and His Kingdom, that we value, or is it worthless rubbish – for these are the only two options.

God bless you this week.